Facing Pain

Recently speaking to a team of nurses visiting us from the US, I said, “Open your hearts, and allow the pain here to touch you”. Jesus said it like this: “Weep with those who weep.” Afterward, someone commented that as nurses they are trained not to become too close to patients. They are trained not to get too emotionally involved with the people they care for. My advice to them on their arrival in Africa was exactly the opposite – allow the pain to touch you!

In a way, each of us in Western culture has been trained to do the same. We are trained to be problem solvers. When we face a situation, we analyse it and find a solution. This is good, and tremendous advancements and progress come from this way of thinking. But there is a negative side to our automatic problem-solving. It keeps difficult situations from getting too close to our hearts. It becomes a mechanism to keep everything at arm’s length.

Recently I found myself in a village in Zimbabwe desperately trying to solve some challenges faced by families there. One family after the other was either headed by grandparents or children. The daily challenges they faced were just overwhelming to hear. Everything in me wanted to solve their problems. As they spoke, I thought, ‘I could do this, and buy that, and speak to people about this.’ Walking away from the village late that afternoon was tough for me... real tough. I was able to give some answers to people, yet I also understood that there was more I should have done. I should have allowed their pain to enter me. For a brief moment I should have been there with them sharing in their pain.

Later that week, in another Zimbabwe village, I had an opportunity to do just that. A small group of us met a grandmother caring for three grand children. They had suffered a crop failure, and one grandson had walked to Harare to look for help. That was months ago; he never returned. The grandmother’s situation was so desperate that she could see no way out.

My first instinct was to start making plans, calling people, arranging a solution. But then I remembered it: “Weep with those who weep.” I just sat down with her in silence. She began to weep. Two of us moved next to her, placed arms around her. All of us wept. It was one of those mystical moments. Something took place during the time of vulnerable weeping. I could see in her eyes that the grandmother experienced it. Even if just for a day, people stopped their own lives, sat with her, wept with her. We shared in her pain. That does something to us – sharing our pain. Somehow it makes suffering lighter and easier to bear.

Of course after we left we discussed how to help this granny and others suffering like her. By God’s grace and the support from others we will make a difference in that area, but I think we already made a huge impact when we wept with those who weep.